Wednesday, 12 Dec 2018

UNAIDS found in "crisis" after complaints of sexual harassment

GENEVA – Independent Experts Investigate Allegations of Sexual Harassment at US Agency Against AIDS Claim to Fall Away from "Failing Leadership", Culture of Impunity and Toxic Work Environment which can not be changed without the replacement of its manager.

The committee was created earlier this year as a result of allegations of sexual harassment on the part of staff and calls for criticism for executive director, Michel Sidibe, to resign.

But Sidibe said in a statement that he thought he was the right man to right the situation of the organization.

Sidibe denied allegations that he attempted to force an employee to abandon allegations that she had been sexually assaulted by her former MP.

In a damning new report released Friday, the four experts cited a "void of responsibility" and said that UNAIDS leaders had failed to prevent or respond to allegations of sexual harassment properly, intimidation and abuse of power.

"The panel has no confidence that current leaders can bring about cultural change when they are largely responsible for the current unrest," the report says. The authors interviewed or received written submissions from more than 100 staff and surveyed approximately 60% of Agency staff.

At the time the report was made public, UNAIDS issued a statement in which it promised a "change agenda" based on the group's recommendations to ensure "the highest standards of accountability and integrity". ". to lead him.

"I took into account the criticisms made by the panel," Sidibe said in his statement. "In proposing this agenda, I am confident that we can focus on the future."

He said that he would spend a year making UNAIDS a workplace "where everyone feels safe and included".

Despite its harsh criticism, the panel also attributed Sidibe's "remarkable contribution" to the work of UNAIDS and called him "passionate and effective advocate" for the most vulnerable. He stated that he had "spoken courageously" about the risks of HIV / AIDS among adolescent girls and women and that he was a "champion" in Africa against the threat to health in the world.

The head of UNAIDS is appointed by the UN Secretary-General, who has the power to replace him. The report of the independent panel will be presented to the UNAIDS Board of Directors next week.

UNAIDS spokeswoman, Sophie Barton-Knotts, said that Sidibe "is fully aware of the fact that there is a lot of work to be done – at all levels of the organization – and he is determined to lead this transformation. "

The panel, however, was not in agreement. The solutions proposed by Sidibe were "superficial and insufficient". He also criticized Sidibe for not assuming responsibility for the organization he had been running for eight years, saying his proposed changes "demonstrate a lack of insight into the magnitude of the problems."

According to the survey conducted by the panel, almost 4% of staff members reported having experienced some form of sexual harassment in the past year and over 40% have experienced abuse of authority.

Many staff members complained that the agency was run as a patriarchate, with little oversight and direct retaliation against staff members who had spoken out.

A staff member described a meeting at which Sidibe "boasted" of personally securing the appointment and promotion of his African "brothers" and that he did not regret it. Sidibe is from Mali.

"UNAIDS is like prey for predators," wrote another interviewee. "You can use the promises of jobs, contracts and all kinds of opportunities and abuse your power to get what you want … I have seen male white colleagues from foreground attending local young trainees or using UNAIDS resources to access sex workers.

These problems began to draw public attention after Martina Brostrom, a UNAIDS staff member, publicly announced her allegations in a complaint of sexual harassment and sexual assault filed in November 2016. She stated that that Luiz Loures, formerly assistant director of the agency programs, had forcibly kissed her and had her seized in a hotel lift in Bangkok in May 2015 – says Loures denied. He left UNAIDS earlier this year.

The World Health Organization office that investigated the case concluded that the evidence was insufficient to support Bostrom's claims.

Brostrom told The Associated Press that she was still reviewing the 73-page report, but added that she was "happy that the truth … is finally revealed".

Associated Press does not usually identify victims of sexual assault. However, Brostrom spoke to the media this year after a WHO panel accepted the investigators' recommendation to close the case.


Cheng reported from London.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, disseminated, rewritten or redistributed.


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